Earl Grey

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EARL GREY. Scottish, Strathspey. A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Kerr): AB (Hunter, Martin, Milne): AAB (Athole): AA'B (Skinner). Composed by James Hill, who was born in Dundee, Scotland, but who lived in Gateshead near Newcastle, England. Hill is most remembered for his hornpipes such as "The Bee's Wing" and "High Level," although this strathspey is a classic. Hill named his tune after a pub called the "Earl Grey," which itself was probably named in honor of Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), born in Falloden, Northumberland. Grey held several titles in his lifetime, and was Prime Minister (1830-1834) and 'Hero of the Reform Bills'. He abolished the slave trade throughout the British Empire, and was a champion of Catholic emancipation (having married Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby in 1794, the daughter of a leading Irish liberal family). The strathspey may also have been written for his son and successor, the 3rd Earl Grey (1810-1884), who attained the position of Secretary of State for War.

A manuscript copy [1] by Alexander Troop is the note: "I am of the opinion this is an English Strathspey and the only English one that there is....." J. Scott Skinner (in whose Harp and Claymore collection the tune appears) himself commented: "The Introduction of a strain of 'Fairbairns' strathspey is frequently given by Street players with bad taste." In the north of England the tune is sometimes played as a reel. Some settings are significantly different than Hill's original. Paul Stewart Cranford (2000) references the version Cape Breton fiddlers learned from James Dickie's recording as one example. Another Cape Breton setting is closer to the original, notes Cranford, who references the one played by Alex Francis MacKay.

Sources for notated versions: Scottish fiddler Peter Milne's setting, via the late Hector MacAndrew [Martin]; Jerry Holland, via Cape Breton fiddler Winston Fitzgerald, who learned it from an LP of Scottish fiddler James Dickie [Cranford].

Printed sources: Cranford (Jerry Holland: The Second Collection), 2000; No. 18, p. 8. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 122. Kerr (Merry Melodies), vol. 2; No. 1, p. 3. Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; p. 139. Milne (Middleton’s Selection of Strathspeys, Reels &c. for the Violin), 1870; p. 23. Skinner (Harp and Claymore), 1904; p. 94. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 5.

Recorded sources: Beltona 78 RPM 2292, Jimmy Shand. Green Linnet GLCD 3105, Aly Bain - "Lonely Bird" (1996). Greentrax CDTRAX 9009, Hector MacAndrew (1903-1980) - "Scottish Tradition 9: The Fiddler and his Art" (1993). Angus Cameron - "Strings to the Bow" (1977). "James F. Dickie's Delights" (1976).

See also listings at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [2]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [3]




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